Whenever he leaves the club, Roberto Firmino will go down as a Liverpool legend. This is something that cannot be argued.
He is Jurgen Klopp’s ideal forward. His pressing from the front is unmatched in the game, while he possesses the extravagant flair expected of a Brazilian attacker.
Firmino is not the first to ever play the false 9 role, but there is a real argument to be had that he is the best to ever do it.
While his job was never to score goals, he still bagged a fair few. 58 in 183 games isn’t spectacular, but it is more than acceptable for a player that is essentially a No 10.
Firmino also has 37 assists Premier League assists so he really has had fantastic goal contribution numbers throughout his time at Anfield.
Yet, as mentioned, this has never been his primary role.
Jurgen Klopp wants two things in particular from Firmino – to lead the press and to drop off in order to create space for the wider forwards to fill.
The 29-year-old has done this to perfection during his time in red. His high-level performances have been crucial to Liverpool being crowned champions of England, Europe and the world in the last few years.
The front line of Firmino, Mane and Salah is one of the very best in Liverpool history. In fact, the trio will never be truly appreciated until they are all gone.
However, the time has possibly come for Liverpool to move away from Firmino in the false 9. There are a number of reasons for this.
Firmino’s lack of goals is common knowledge. But fans have always been able to overlook this due to what else he brings to the team, even if his direct contribution is getting worse.
The real worrying issue is the decline in the things he has always done well.
He looks short on the confidence that he usually demonstrated with ease. His pressing is less impressive than ever and the seemingly tireless runner looks knackered more often than not these days.
Ok, we are of course not saying that Firmino in the false 9 is dead and buried or that he should never be seen in Liverpool red again.
But there is a strong argument to suggest that its days as Liverpool’s plan A could possibly be numbered.
Diogo Jota – the younger, more clinical model
There is only one place to start.
Diogo Jota is the reason for the growing popularity of the current Firmino conversation.
Prior to this season beginning, there was no real push by fans to upgrade the front three. Mane and Salah were still flying and while Firmino was out of form, there was the belief that he could improve again.
But then came Jota. Or as he has recently been christened, Diogoal.
His nickname is probably enough for one to know that his Liverpool career has started better than anyone could have dreamt.
His form has encouraged fans to think about whether Liverpool actually do work better with Firmino in the team.
Of course, many are getting ahead of themselves by blowing Jota up a little too much and completely forgetting Firmino’s importance.
But there can be no denying that on current form, choosing between Jota and Firmino is a no-brainer in the Portuguese man’s favour.
Jota is adept at pressing from the front but he is also very dangerous in the box. This means that he does not compromise Liverpool’s gegenpressing, but he is also more useful in front of goal than Firmino.
Last season saw him score just seven Premier League goals, but xG had him at 12.02 goals. This means that he was good at getting into goalscoring positions, but his finishing let him down.
This season, he has three league goals, but an xG of just 1.57. To sum up, he is still getting into great positions, plus he has also drastically improved his finishing.
The difference between the pair is age.
At 23, Jota is only going to improve his finishing. 29-year-old Firmino most likely will not.
Unless Klopp decides that a change of system is the way forward, Jota will probably make Klopp’s mind up for him.
No matter how much love the boss has for Firmino, he won’t be able to ignore the contrast in form for too long.
One key difference between Jota and Firmino’s playing style is dropping between the lines.
Jota has played most often on the left of a front three or as a striker in a two.
His game is more about scoring than creating chances or facilitating others.
Meanwhile, Firmino drops into midfield to receive the ball and create space up top. His ability to drag defenders out of place is key to Mane and Salah getting so many scoring opportunities.
Jota naturally wants to be the one getting the chances, rather than being the one to drop off in order for others to get them.
However, the striker dropping deep is no longer necessary due to the options the Reds now have in midfield.
The key man being Thiago.
Having Jota’s fellow new signing in midfield allows Liverpool to effectively bypass the No 10 area of the pitch. His game is based on winning the ball and progressing it up the field.
While he is not usually the man to make the final pass, he often plays the pass before the assist. At Bayern, he used Thomas Muller and Serge Gnabry as the middlemen between he and Robert Lewandowski.
At Liverpool, he can use the fullbacks plus the front three themselves. He has five players to aim for in scoring positions rather than one or two.
The emergence of Curtis Jones and a fit Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will also aid progression into the final third. Jordan Henderson getting more games as a No 8 will do no harm either.
So, essentially, Liverpool will have more creativity in midfield rather than relying on the centre-forward to create too. Meanwhile, there will be three goalscorers on the pitch, rather than two.
Firmino’s time is far from over
All this does not mean that Firmino’s days in Liverpool are numbered.
There will of course be games where a false 9 will be the best way to go. Particularly in a season so condensed, Firmino will get loads of game time.
He might be needed to play one-two’s at the edge of the box during games where Liverpool cannot break the opponent down. Perhaps his pressing will be needed against ball-dominating teams like Manchester City.
He can also play as a No 10. We have seen this a few times this season to decent effect.
There is always a chance that he will rediscover his shooting boots. While he won’t improve to the point of scoring 25+ goals, he could well return to getting 15 or 16 for the next few seasons.
This is if he isn’t sacrificed in the summer to make room for a new big-name attacker.
There will probably be only one of two more years in which Liverpool can get big money for one of their forwards. It makes sense to cash in while they can in order to fund a move for a young superstar like Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappe.
Firmino is the oldest and possibly at this stage least important member of the front three. If Jurgen Klopp does want to play a false 9 in future, he still has Taki Minamino.
Yet he will also warrant the lowest fee. Maybe Liverpool won’t get what they believe Firmino to be worth.
At the end of the day, it would be foolish to write him off after a few bad months.
The fans that want him out were happy to sing ‘the best in the world, it’s Bobby Firmino’ a few months back.
There is still room for loyalty at the top level of the game. Of all people, Roberto Firmino has earned it.